The last two days of CBA negotiations have been the most exciting so far in the entire process. We have reached a critical point as the calendar has turned to December, and the clock is ticking as we inch closer to the date that the season may be lost.
The issues are the same, but the key players have changed. Last week, after mediators failed to make any real headway, the suggestion was raised that Gary Bettman and Don Fehr remove themselves from the negotiations and the owners and players met face-to-face. A group of 6 owners and 18 players (a number that has gone up and down at times) have spent the last 48 hours having open, candid discussions and all appearances are that progress is being made, even if a deal is not imminent.
Look, we all know that a deal is going to be signed at some point. It's not a given that we will see NHL hockey this year just yet, but there will come a time where both sides realize there is middle ground and strike a deal that (hopefully) brings prolonged labor peace.
When that happens, the natural reaction will be to bestow praise on those that made it happen. In the last 2 days, reports have emerged that a couple of Pittsburgh guys, Ron Burkle and Sidney Crosby, have been very influential in the room and cooled some of the hot tempers that exist in the room.
What this has done is led some people to anoint Burkle and Crosby as the "saviors" of the NHL, something that is going to make a lot of people very angry. There are some out there who will non-ironically spout things like "Sidney Crosby is the greatest player and person ever because he literally saved hockey from itself", leading them to be pelted with rotten fruit and beaver skins.
Personally, I'm glad that Crosby dove headfirst into negotiations. Whether people like it or not, he is a mega-star and one of the faces of the league. He has generated a lot of buzz for the NHL, and that has led to increased revenue. To disregard what he has to say would be a mistake because an unhappy superstar could lead to a decrease in the amount of money lining the owners' pockets.
But it would be a mistake to suggest that Sidney Crosby and his high school education are leading the charge against the owners, especially since you've got George Parros and Kevin Westgarth and their Princeton degrees sitting at the same table. He may be making suggestions regarding what he'd like to see in the new deal, but his voice is one of 18 in that room, many of whom have college educations.
That also doesn't take into account that whether they're in the room or not, Bettman and Fehr are still exerting influence over the negotiations. I don't think for a second that a deal is going to get done without their knowledge and input, especially Fehr because he is a professional who negotiations labor deals for a living while his constituents play a game.
The same goes with Bettman. Jeremy Jacobs may be the heavy-handed meanie who is driving this lockout, and Burkle may be the voice of reason within the room, but Bettman is the leader, and whether he's receiving marching orders from the 29 owners or providing the strategy himself, he's an integral part of this entire process, whether he's in the room or not.
But in the end, does it matter? Much like the so-called "PR War", the idea that one or two guys are the difference between there being NHL hockey this year or not is irrelevant. When you think about it deep down in your soul, do you really care whether it was Sidney Crosby that "saved" the season? Yes, it would mean he'd be featured even more than he is now, but if you're worried about the health of the NHL after yet another work stoppage, then shouldn't his face be used to bring fans back? And wouldn't you just be happy that the NHL was back, regardless of who made it happen?
The idea that any one person is responsible for a CBA being signed is short-sighted and wrong. The process is ongoing, and it's going to take contributions and engagement from 29 owners and 700+ players. That's the only way this deal gets done and we get our NHL back.